Yesterday was my twelve year wedding anniversary. Instead of a fancy dinner alone with my husband (such a dinner is wasted on me these days since I’d likely deliberate between salad and salad, and really, why spend money on lettuce leaves alone), the whole family went to Presque Isle for sand and sunshine and very cold Lake Erie water—our approximation of a beach day on the island of Naxos in Greece. Though, my lunch here was radically different than my lunch there.
Here: one-half of a Spartan turkey sandwich, no cheese; the other half I furtively wadded up in an aluminum ball and tossed into the garbage bag. Impossible to eat the whole thing, especially in a bikini. I kept eyeing my stomach, expecting my girth to expand with every bite. “Beached whale,” IT said. Of course, I also kept my eye on the two anorexic women my radar had spotted; I wasn’t horrified at all, but jealous. Sick and sad, I know, but I still long for my own anorexic body, the one without curves, the one that was suddenly diminutive (even at my 5 feet 10 inches), the one of angles and sharp planes, the one with the bony hips and disappearing breasts, the one that swam in size Zero. I have been told by everyone that loves me that I looked horrible then, emaciated, hollow, exhausted. And that I was out-of-my-mind crazy then—in complete nutritional deficit, meds no longer working because of the lack of calories, dissociative and suicidal. And yet. And yet, that underweight body continues to haunt me, continues to call to me. Less is more, less is more. This is the pathetic State of the Nation of Kerry: on my anniversary, instead of daydreaming about my wedding day, or reminiscing about my 3 week honeymoon in Tuscany (utterly food and sex-centered), I was dogged by the ghost of anorexia.
There: The Greek beach lunch? After a few hours of sunshine and snorkeling, the family stumbles up to the taverna that sits in the shade of tamarisk trees. We order quickly because we are ravenous: oil-cured olives, atherini (teeny-tiny fish, flash fried), a village salad topped with a scoop of mizithra cheese, horta (pungent greens dressed in olive oil and lemon), briam (oven roasted tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes), grilled octopus dressed with oregano and lemon, meatballs, stuffed squid, fried potatoes, and and and and. By the end of the meal, our faces are shiny with olive oil, but we have eaten very, very well. And after lunch, I don’t worry about my full stomach, don’t feel the insane body-consciousness and self-loathing. Instead, I am grateful for my body, and it’s long, strong limbs which will kick me back and forth across the bay several dozen times as I snorkel again in search of sea urchin shells. I watch the kids search out hermit crabs and swim until their lips are blue and their teeth chatter. My daughter splays herself across an outcropping of rocks warmed by the sun like a little sea goddess; my son shivers up beside me, snuggles close to be warmed by me. And my husband? He gives me the waggly eye, which tells me what’s on his mind: our bedroom and our naked bodies, and okay, maybe an icy glass of ouzo. Here’s the thing—this isn’t fantasy. I’ve had this day over and over which means this isn’t completely lost to me.
Another Anniversary-ish memory? My friend Michelle recently reminded me of when she came to visit Christopher and me, a year or so after our wedding. As I mentioned, our honeymoon in Tuscany was absolute gluttony—pasta, wine, sex, pasta, wine, sex. We drove from one region to another, one restaurant to another in search of perfect food. Which we found at La Macchia Alta, a small horse farm/hotel at the end of a long dirt road. The only people staying there were a group of Italian couples who knew little English. But one evening, over extraordinary Pasta Bolognese and pitchers of red wine, one couple, from Bologna!, wrote down their recipe for the dish. It didn’t seem like much—soffrito (carrots, celery, onions), ground veal, pork, and beef, heavy cream, white wine, butter, pancetta, and NO! garlic—but it was, and still is on a regular basis, heavenly. When we returned from our honeymoon, we immediately bought a hand-cranked Pasta machine. After so much good, fresh pasta, there was no possible way to settle once again for dried tagliatelli or fettuccini. Over the course of the year that followed, Christopher mastered the Bolognese sauce and perfected homemade pasta. And I happily ate it all.
Enter Michelle into our kitchen eleven years ago: “There was pasta rolled out from one end of the counter to the other. Thanks to the pasta attachment you had gotten for Christmas. You looked at me and smiled and said, "THIS is why I've put on 10lbs this year - and it was worth every calorie," and then you grabbed your glass of wine and started jigging right there in the kitchen.” When Michelle wrote me a few days ago with that memory, I was absolutely astonished. How is it possible that I ever would have been okay with pure, hungry and not-so-hungry-but-just-eating-because-I-damn-well-felt-like-it consumption? How was I ever a woman not just resigned, but positively jigging over a ten pound weight gain? That woman seems like a foreign stranger, impossible that we share the same body, that we inhabit the same life. And yet, there I was, having a riotous good-time with making and eating food. That woman THERE has a capacity for joy, for lightness, for spontaneity; this woman HERE is not consuming, but is being consumed by the ruthless pursuit of lightness, thinness, nothingness which leads to the absence of joy.
I want to be the woman jigging around the pasta machine again, the woman with the delicious smear of Bolognese sauce on her lips, the woman who is famished from snorkeling and orders more than she can possibly eat, but tries to eat it anyway, the woman who celebrates her wedding anniversary with both the beach day and the fancy dinner out and orders exactly what she desires.